Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fizzy Sake and Bad Merlot

I got to try fizzy sake last weekend in Sacramento -- I was assured it's big in Japan. I liked it, and when I looked for a word to describe it, the Japanese woman offering samples told me it was refreshing. The product's distributor, a middle-aged gaijin, compared it to champagne. The brand I tried was Zipang, made by the Gekkeikan company.

The bubbles in sparkling sake are made, according to Sake-World this way: "Fermentation is halted earlier than is usual, when the alcohol is only around 5 to 10 percent, as opposed to the 18 to 20 percent of normal sake. At this time, there is still plenty of sugar in the mash. The sake is then pressed and bottled. There, in the bottle, a secondary fermentation takes place that produces carbonation."

The New York Times now has a wine blog. It's called The Pour, and it's written by Eric Asimov. It's surprisingly interesting. In a May 9 post he tackles merlot, a variety that I learned was bad from the movie Sideways. I tried a merlot last weekend, and I thought it was good, but I'm not very sophisticated. Asimov says that merlot really is bad, that it really does deserve its bad reputation. However, he's found some good ones.

Fox News, that old arbiter of taste, reported last year on the film's affect on wine sales in an article called Hell No, Merlot: 'Sideways' Alters Wine Market. Reading the article though, sales aren't down that much.

"California destroyed its own Merlot business a number of years before the movie was even released," said Chris Shipley, wine director for New York's 21 Club. "Customers have come to realize that the ones the growers were devising to fill this supposedly endless demand for the grape weren't very good. And so there's a fatigue on the customer's part. The craze is clearly over, and the movie was picking up on that."

The movie had a bigger effect on pinot noir sales, which are (or were) up more than merlot sales are down. Shipley warned that the same thing could happen to pinot if wine growers get too excited.


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